Songs for those that don’t feel like singing

On a few occasions when I’ve felt too sick to  read or listen to a sermon or even just watch T.V. to pass the time one of the things that has helped me most is Christian songs.   These songs help me not because I necessarily feel like ‘praising’ God at such times but because they seem to speak to me when nothing else does.   They teach me from God’s word when a sermon can’t. When I’m too tired and too discouraged to hear God’s word, for some reason I can hear it through song.  It’s interesting that many of the psalms in the Old Testament are written in the context of suffering.  Such songs remind us of fundamental truths about God and his salvation.   They also  help us pray when we don’t know what or how to pray.

I also find that the songs that help me most aren’t always the ones that are most typically sung in church.   I suspect there is a tendency to  think of singing in terms of praise (which it is) but then praise is defined quite narrowly as songs which speak specifically about praise and worship.  However in scripture we praise God when we recount biblical history (a description of what he has done e.g. Ps 105).  We praise him when we teach the scriptures.  We praise him when we confess our sin (Josh 7:19).  We praise God by describing our plight and the need for his grace.

When I’m in the pit, I don’t find it easy to sing songs of  ‘praise’ in the narrow sense but I can sing psalms about suffering, songs which point me to the sufferings and love of Christ and more generally songs that  teach me fundamental truths from Scripture that I need to learn or remember.

Perhaps part of the problem lies also in a tendency to see singing in the Christian life as something that is primarily meant for the church service and so songs are written more with a view to performance than to teaching.    It seems however in the New Testament that singing was much more personal and instructional than it often is today.   It’s purpose  according to Paul in Colossians is to ‘teach and admonish one another.’  That can happen anywhere.   The songs we learn in church need to be the kind of songs that will help a person in prison, or hospital or stuck at home with a chronic illness.  Then having learnt such songs we need to take them into our homes, schools, prisons etc.  Rightly used it is a wonderful means by which God makes his word to dwell richly in our hearts.

When John Newton and William Cowper met each week  a few centuries ago to write hymns, their goal was primarily the instruction of God’s people by putting a message based on a text of scripture into poetic form.  Here is an example of one written by John Newton.   It is simply a summary and application of Hebrews 12:

Afflictions do not come alone,
A voice attends the rod;
By both He to His saints is known,
A Father and a God!

Let not My children slight the stroke
I for chastisement send;
Nor faint beneath My kind rebuke,
For still I am their Friend.

The wicked I perhaps may leave
Awhile, and not reprove;
But all the children I receive
I scourge, because I love.

If therefore you were left without
This needful discipline;
You might, with cause, admit a doubt,
If you, indeed, were Mine.

Shall earthly parents then expect
Their children to submit?
And wilt not you, when I correct,
Be humbled at My feet?

To please themselves they oft chastise,
And put their sons to pain;
But you are precious in My eyes,
And shall not smart in vain.

I see your hearts, at present, filled
With grief, and deep distress;
But soon these bitter seeds shall yield
The fruits of righteousness.

Break through the clouds, dear Lord, and shine!
Let us perceive Thee nigh!
And to each mourning child of Thine
These gracious words apply.

We need people writing and teaching songs and hymns like this today.   A diet of  very narrowly defined ‘praise’ songs where the main refrain is something like ‘I will always worship you’ etc. will not give us the spiritual meat that we desperately need – especially when things are hard.  This is not a call to sing only hymns, or only music that is at least one hundred years old.  It’s a call to sing old and new songs that will do what our souls need them to do – feed us on the pure milk of the word so that we may grow.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve simply found your blog (this post specifically) because wordpress thought mine for today was similar enough to attach via the “possibly related posts” at the bottom.

    Thank you for sharing this hymn, and I could not agree more. While I think there are some good songs coming out now, there is depth and variety/balance in old hymns that have stood the test of time.

    May God bless you in and through your suffering.


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